You may not know this considering the shows I’ve been covering this season, but some of my anime roots are in the shoujo genre. Back when I was a wee little lad, my sister and I were in love with the Fruits Basket manga after we found out about it through a few episodes of the anime adaptation we saw on TV. We read it very quickly over the course of one summer, and it holds a very special place in my heart. So when I decided I wanted to once again dabble into the mysterious land of shoujo, I was quite pleased to find out a shoujo show called Ao Haru Ride (Or Blue Spring Ride in English) was airing during this Summer 2014 season. Did the show fill my need for shoujo? Well it did, but I have many problems with it.
First though, a brief plot summary. The story of Ao Haru Ride follows a Japanese high school girl named Futaba Yoshioka, who was once a girly girl but now passes off as a tomboy in order to make friends. In middle school she was in love with a boy named Kou Tanaka, who mysteriously disappeared after one summer vacation. Suddenly though, Kou reappears as a student at her high school and Futaba discovers his parents divorced and he, along with his last name, has completely changed. He’s rude, blunt, and every word in the dictionary that’s a synonym for jerk; and yet Futaba can’t help but feel that somewhere deep in her heart that she’s still in love with him.
Now in basic terms, Ao Haru Ride is a romance about a young girl warming a cold childhood friend’s heart, while gaining new friends along the way. It seems like a pretty good shoujo in theory, especially considering the adaptive team working on this show made the popular Kimi ni Todoke anime. However the execution for these past few episodes have been shaky to say the least, and the main reason for that is the romantic couple. They’re just not that compelling.
Futaba’s problems are pretty bland, especially compared to other shoujo leads. She goes around pretending to be something she’s not, but it’s just not all that interesting because it’s just too typical of a problem. It’s a sad thing to say, but, at the end of the day, this stuff happens to a lot of high school girls, and it just doesn’t make for the most interesting subject. Yes I will admit that the show very quickly solves that problem, and moves to her instead searching to form genuine relationships, which is a lot more interesting than, “I’m pretending to be a tomboy,” but she’s still rather bland. This isn’t helped by the fact her relationship with Kou is a little creepy. I understand that all shoujo protagonists are at least a little obsessive when it comes to their love interests, but her drive to make Kou his old self is very weird. You would think she would stop eventually considering Kou’s completely awful, but of course, even when she gets angry at him, she almost immediately runs back to apologize to him. Even Belle in Beauty and the Beast left the Beast behind when she had the ability to leave the castle.
Seriously though, Kou is an unlikeable a-hole who basically goes around being a complete jerk to Futaba. He obviously barely cares at all about her feelings, and he genuinely seems to be completely uninterested in forming a relationship with Futaba beyond a casual friendship. I just don’t see why I should root for these two to get together. They’re not particularly relatable, or likeable for that matter, so I don’t feel motivated to see them fall in love. And if there’s one thing your shoujo is required to do, it’s make sure your main couple is likable, even show’s like Arakawa Under the Bridge do that! If your core story is about your main romantic couple, then you better have one with chemistry dang it.
I also would be remised to not talk about the annoying side story, which features the quiet Murao (One of the potential new friends for Futaba), and her crush on Kou’s older brother, Tanaka-sensei. Can I just talk about how tired I am of the side character is in love with a teacher sub plot? Because boy am I tired of it. It’s featured in so many romance anime these days that I can’t help but be sick of it, even when it’s decently executed.
In fact that brings up another problem I have with this show in general: It’s not very original. The struggle that occurs between Kou and Futaba, Futaba’s search for friendship, and the characters in general seem kind of generic. Yes I know that I shouldn’t go into a shoujo expecting an unique artistic masterpiece, but I at least expect some variety in the premise, which this show doesn’t really offer, in my opinion. Even Kimi ni Todoke, which you could consider a prime example of shoujo 101, has a twist in that the main protagonist is considered scary by everyone in her class. How often do you see that in a normal shoujo? I mean shoujo protagonists are usually outcasts, but they aren’t often looked down upon in an extremely negative light. Ao Haru Ride just doesn’t offer that kind of twist, and that’s probably why the show is uninteresting.
This is really sad for Ao Haru Ride, because otherwise, on the production side of things, the show’s really good and entertaining. The animation here is full of pretty watercolor backgrounds in the flashback scenes, and even without those the vibrant direction and typical Production IG animation is fluid and nice to look at. It’s the source material here that’s really holding this project back! I can totally see this team making a much better shoujo with the proper material. It’s rather depressing really.
In the end though, Ao Haru Ride, while disappointing, isn’t really that bad. It’s animation, as I’ve mentioned before, is very well done, and it’s still an entertaining enough to watch. The main issue here really is just how uninteresting the premise and characters are. The main couple is especially hard to root for since they don’t seem like they should even be trying to get together. I guess my search for great shoujo will have to continue elsewhere.